August 6, 2012
By Dan Popko
IN THE PRICKLY COLD of a January day in Boston, a college student far from his home in Long Island sits at the lonely corner of this neighborhood bar. His only friend–a tall Sam Adams–shrinks closer to nothingness by the second. No worries, the Jets game is on. Only nobody seems to care. If only another New Yorker were here to share the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and another cold one.
With the growth of social media, the crippling loneliness of watching games away from home without like–minded brethren is close to being a thing of the past. Now, instead of happening upon a fellow fan or two and deciding to meet up from week to week, group gatherings for transplants have become highly organized. A Facebook group or event–or a website like Meetup.com–serves as a rallying point to meet outside the context of Twitter's 140 characters and an online avatar, to take in a game with fellow fans.
"All of this social media stuff is connecting us in a way we've never been connected before," says Frankie "Gabagool" Pecoraro, the main organizer of 56 local chapters of New York Jets fans spread across the world.
Word of these groups used to spread through team–oriented message boards, places that were once havens only for tech–savvy fans. But that was the old Internet. Social media has changed everything.
Sure, there's still a forum for discussion on the news and buzz surrounding the team, but for those who can't stand to watch football in physical isolation there's a real–life niche too.
"I don't do it for news and other stuff like that; there are a million places you can go for that," Pecoraro says of his pro bono work to unite Jets fans from Jersey to Japan. "I do it for the love of the fans, the heart of the fans."
Pecoraro started off networking the old–fashioned way. After moving to Los Angeles from Westchester, he hung out with similarly lonely Cleveland Browns fans, in what slowly became "their" bar. Inspired, Pecoraro moved to unite his fellow Jets fans to find a home of their own.
Searching for love he couldn't find, Pecoraro did what any respectable adult would do: hit the bars. Making two or three stops across Los Angeles every game week, Pecoraro began slowly amassing a network of Jets fans in the early 2000s. He acquired contact information at a rate that would make most pick–up artists jealous and began sending out emails to everyone, telling them to meet up at different bars in the area each week. Some lovelorn Jets fans carpooled three hours up from San Diego, eventually prompting the creation of a San Diego chapter.
After finding a handful of other similar groups across the country using Meetup. com–and helping to start many others– Pecoraro now relies on social media to find people and bring them together. Whenever he comes across a transplanted Jets fan on Facebook, they can expect a friend request soon after. Once they accept, Pecoraro invites them into the local chapter.
Thanks to Pecoraro's social networking operation, most major cities across the country now have Jets bars–many easily attracting 200 fans at the height of football season.
One unlikely location is the Green Briar in Boston, where wild–eyed fans claim turf in the homeland of the Jets' biggest rival. Recalling their first official Jets gathering, Jay Baum, head of the area's local fan club, says, "The atmosphere was electric."
The group started a few years ago with just a half–dozen or so close compatriots jumping around from bar to bar. After getting on Facebook and linking up with Pecoraro, the eclectic group now measures more than 230 strong and has a base in which to plant its flag every week.
"It doesn't matter how old you are or anything," long–time Jets fan and Bostonian Paul Leone adds. "It's a mixed bag we got. Some people are even Red Sox fans!"
As for Pecoraro's own Los Angeles contingent? A Jets game–day turnout could be as high as 400 for the no–longerlonely New Yorkers 3,000 miles from their team.
As much as the NFL relies on teamwork and cohesion on the field, the camaraderie of fans off the field is just as important. For the players, it's often just a job. For fans, it's so much more. In home cities where football minutiae of roster and coaching decisions are fodder for debate on airwaves and bar stools, the sport can be harder to escape than to find. But for the displaced, far from the home team, that familiarity disappears.
In the heart of Beantown, New York Giants fans share the Greatest Bar by North Station with Steelers fans every Sunday. The Banshee in Dorchester– which also hosts supporters of many of Europe's most popular soccer clubs– becomes a Cheesehead haven when the Packers are playing. MJ O'Connor's in South Boston is home to the Cowboys. A small collection of Broncos fans can even be spotted at White Horse Tavern in Allston, once gathered to celebrate the exalted greatness of their quarterback, Tim Tebow. Boston isn't alone in the phenomenon. New York City hosts the hated Red Sox at three different bars on the East Side of Manhattan alone.
Of transplants looking for a football home away from home in the Hub, Bills fans boast the most impressive numbers: 430 strong. According to their website, bostonbillsbackers.com, they offer "a little 716 in the 617."
As Santonio Holmes hauls in a touchdown reception to put the Jets up 20 – 3 in the third quarter, a cheer rises from the 40–plus fans dressed to fit in as part of Gang Green Briar. The win is now virtually assured, and the Jets are back in the thick of the playoff race. As if on cue, Jet Man jumps up on a chair next to the massive projection screen, nearly knocking the green–foam plane he calls a hat from his head, waving his arms wildly beneath his Jets Snuggie–worn backwards as a cape–like a classical conductor. Swaying like a metronome, the crowd goes wild, shouting a phrase that is the most profane to a Bostonian's ears: "J–E–T–S..."
Dan Popko, from Stony Brook, N.Y., will earn his M.S. in print journalism with a concentration in sports reporting in 2013.